Open Source Faces Off Versus Proprietary Software

Open Source Faces Off Versus Proprietary Software

Two Polish software developers engage in conversation weekly on The Podcast. One wrote the original version of Nozbe the Getting Things Done app I use. Michael Sliwinski talked of using open source software to help him write his app and start his company. His Apple developer Radek Pietruszewski in episode 157 discussed how they wrote a piece of database code they dubbed WatermelonDB and released it into open source on GitHub.

I talk about the benefits of open source as an introduction to things I gleaned from last week’s annual trip to the Sacramento, CA area and the Inductive Automation Ignition Community Conference. Community was the operative word as the gathering of several hundred (I never heard an exact count, but the rumor was there were more than 600) integrators and users crowded into the Harris Center in Folsom for conversation, training, and updates.

On a side note, I’ve been unusually swamped with my annual project of assigning referees to high school and US Soccer youth contests. It seems as if half of the preliminary work I put in assigning before the season were washed away in an unusually wet late summer. Rescheduling is hell. Referees are tired of hearing from me. But I have only 2.5 weeks left in the high school season and two weeks beyond that will close the club season. Then I take a six-month break. Therefore, my energy level for writing has been sapped and the frequency here and on my podcast have suffered.

Founder and CEO Steve Hechtman betrayed his usual laid back demeanor talking about company growth and especially the latest release—Ignition 8—to be released in a few months. I have few details, but developers solved many platform problems caused by integrators pushing the envelop of HMI SCADA software.

Chief Strategy Officer Don Pearson told how the company has always embodied the OT/IT convergence meme with Hechtman coming from an OT background as an integrator and co-developers and now co-directors of software engineering Carl Gould and Colby Clegg were trained in IT technologies.

Pearson began the discussion of open source that continued throughout the conference. While Inductive Automation has always been a proponent of open standards—it still fully supports OPC UA, for example—it is also an open source user and contributor. The technologies strongly promoted at the conference were MQTT (a transport protocol) and Sparkplug (an information carrier in this case used to communicate Ignition tag information from source to consumer). Developer Cirrus Link has placed Sparkplug in the open source Eclipse Foundation.

Speakers talked with assurance about open source, but there was a thread of defensiveness in the discussion, too. Pearson quoted Maeterlinck, “At every crossroad on the way that leads to the future, each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past.” Eclipse Foundation Executive Director Mike Milinkovich proclaimed, “Software is eating the world, and open source is eating software.”

I like both open source and open standards. They both have propelled industry enabling innovation and limiting lock-in. I remember downloading the first Java JDK in the 90s and trying out the eclipse platform in early 2002. All pretty cool stuff. The Inductive Automation adoption of open source is refreshing in the industry.

Here are a few bullet points from the Carl-Colby show introducing Ignition 8:

  • Building on the past, but with a new beginning
  • New platform:
  • Revamped tag system to reduce memory overload
  • New scripting app
  • Subscription and data model
  • Extensibility
  • Dynamic writable UDT parameters
  • Deployment architecture, true project inheritance
  • Project resource management
  • Ignition perspective, new mobile module, built up from ground new

I really should add that while Ignition is very good software, most of the people at the conference told me that they were enticed into the system by the pricing. From the beginning, Inductive Automation decided to upset the software pricing model prevalent in the industry. It is a growing company…

Sepasoft

Inductive had acquired an MES company, integrated with Ignition, and has now spun it off into a separate company run by Tom Hechtman, brother to Steve. Its modular software includes many typical MES applications such as track and trace, workflow, OEE, recipe management, and more. Hechtman discussed a Lean Six Sigma tool kit. He noted the staff has doubled in the nine years since acquisition. It is an ISA 95 and B2MML solution. And also now a MESA International member.

Other notes from the conference

Table top exhibits from the conference sponsors were always packed with curious engineers seeking solutions.

Opto 22’s VP Marketing Benson Hougland told me they can’t build the Groov EPIC PLC fast enough for demand. That product combined with Ignition is a powerful control and SCADA platform—as sales attest.

Albert Rooyakkers, founder/CEO of Bedrock Automation told me that his sub-$1000 controller is selling well. Bedrock specializes in secure and hardened controllers—ideal for power, pipeline, and other such applications. He told me, “Secure SCADA with Ignition is coming.” His key word is secure.

IMTS 2018 Features Variety of Manufacturing Technologies

IMTS 2018 Features Variety of Manufacturing Technologies

IMTS has been a huge show for many years. As you might expect from a trade show, the theme is broad. Exhibitors are a diverse lot. Things I saw indicating a new wave of technologies including machines designed to work with humans (so-called “cobots”) and various aspects of Industrial Internet of Things. Following are a few specifics.

Formerly the International Machine Tool Show and now the International Manufacturing Technology Show, the South Hall of Chicago’s McCormick Place is still filled with huge machining centers. The North Hall was packed with robotics, components, and other automation products. Much of this flows over to the East Hall where several aisles were devoted to Hannover Messe automation companies—my sweet spot. Even the West Hall was packed.

Beckhoff proclaimed, “Solve the IoT hardware, software and networking puzzle.”

The company introduced ultra-compact Industrial PCs (IPCs). These IPCs are Microsoft Azure Certified and can work just as easily with other major cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and SAP HANA.

Significant updates will span three key areas of the TwinCAT software suite: new HTML5-enabled TwinCAT HMI for industrial displays and mobile devices, important data processing expansions in the TwinCAT Analytics offering, and TwinCAT 3 Motion Designer, which adds a deep set of valuable tools to commission entire motor, drive and mechanical systems in software. Motion Designer can be integrated into the standard TwinCAT 3 software platform or it can be used as a stand-alone motion system engineering tool.

EK1000 EtherCAT TSN Coupler expands the industrial Ethernet capabilities of the EtherCAT I/O system to utilize TSN (Time-Sensitive Networking) technology. The EK1000 enables communication among high-performance EtherCAT segments with remote EtherCAT controllers via heterogeneous Ethernet networks.

Ideagen plc, the UK-based software firm, announced the acquisition of American quality inspection software provider, InspectionXpert. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, InspectionXpert currently generates $2.8 million in revenue and will bring more than 1,000 clients including Boeing, Kohler and Pratt & Whitney to Ideagen’s existing customer base.

Speaking at IMTS, Chicago, Ideagen CEO, Ben Dorks, said: “As well as significantly enhancing our manufacturing supply chain product suite, the acquisition of InspectionXpert provides Ideagen with a fantastic opportunity for growth by broadening upsell and cross-selling opportunities, increasing our customer footprint and expanding our geographical reach.”

InspectionXpert’s products, InspectionXpert and QualityXpert, enable organizations in the precision manufacturing industry and associated supply chains to simplify inspection planning, execution and reporting and general quality through digitalization of paper-based processes.

InspectionXpert and QualityXpert will be integrated into Ideagen’s existing software suite, which will enhance Software as a Service (SaaS) revenues and provide excellent opportunities for future growth.

Energid released Actin 5, an update to its robot software development kit (SDK). Called the industry’s only real-time adaptive motion control software, it allows robotic system developers to focus on the robot’s task rather than joint movement and paths. It responds in real time to sensory input and directs the robot on the most efficient path while avoiding collisions. The robot motion is updated dynamically without requiring reprogramming, even in dynamic, mission-critical environments.

Forcam develops software solutions in the area of MES, IIoT, and OEE. It leans into the trend of developing platforms. Its platform is built with open APIs with the latest programming languages and tools. It supports Microsoft Azure Cloud, SAP ERP, Maximo maintenance/asset applications, and Apple iPads for input. The platform helps reduce integration time and expense.

I came across the Dell Technologies booth in the automation hall. The big news was a collaboration with Tridium and Intel for IIoT solutions.

The IIoT solution is built on the Niagara Framework, Tridium’s open technology platform, and combines software and consulting services to help customers begin the digital transformation of their businesses.

The Niagara-based IIoT solution built with Dell and Intel technology will comprise a complete hardware and software stack delivered as a finished solution for ease of adoption, and will encompass consulting services from subject matter experts to support implementation. The application layer of the IIoT solution is being developed and supported by Tridium and will expand over time with solutions designed for the telecom and energy sectors.

Siemens and Bentley Systems strengthen strategic alliance expanding digital enterprise

Siemens and Bentley Systems strengthen strategic alliance expanding digital enterprise

Developing digitalization using standards from plant design engineering through the entire production process and extending to the supply chain remains core to my interests. My past work with MIMOSA pointed to this. Siemens strategic moves are fascinating in this regard.

I started this post just when my project sucked all of my energy and then I went to IMTS. This is significant. Especially competitively. I see Rockwell Automation doing nothing like this—only the investment with PTC gaining a seat on the board and a connection to ThingWorx and Kepware within the company. Meanwhile I just interviewed Gary Freburger and Peter Martin from Schneider Electric process business, and they talked some about the integration with AVEVA along these same lines.

Siemens and Bentley Systems Announcement

In the companies’ latest Alliance Board meeting, Bentley Systems and Siemens decided to further strengthen their strategic alliance. The two companies have decided to extend their existing agreement, to further develop their joint business cooperation and commercial initiatives. Therefore, the joint innovation investment program will be increased from the initial €50 million funding to €100 million. In addition, as a result of the continuous investment of Siemens into secondary shares of Bentley’s common stock the Siemens stake in Bentley Systems now exceeds 9%.

Klaus Helmrich, member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG, said: “I’m very pleased with how strong our alliance started. Now we are investing in the next collaboration level with Bentley, where for instance we will strengthen their engineering and project management tools with Siemens enterprise wide collaboration platform Teamcenter to create a full Digital Twin for the engineering and construction world.”

He added: “Integrated company-wide data handling and IoT connectivity via MindSphere will enable our mutual customers to benefit from the holistic Digital Twins.”

Greg Bentley, Bentley Systems CEO, said: “In our joint investment activities with Siemens to date, we have progressed worthwhile opportunities together with virtually every Siemens business for ‘going digital’ in infrastructure and industrial advancement. As our new jointly offered products and cloud services now come to market, we are enthusiastically prioritizing further digital co-ventures. We have also welcomed Siemens’ recurring purchases of non-voting Bentley Systems stock on the NASDAQ Private Market, which we facilitate in order to enhance liquidity, primarily for our retiring colleagues.”

Veronika Schmid-Lutz (SAP) Elected Chair of OPC Foundation Board of Directors

Veronika Schmid-Lutz (SAP) Elected Chair of OPC Foundation Board of Directors

OPC Foundation’s continuous improvement program extended with the addition of new Chair for its Board of Directors. I haven’t had an OPC Foundation conversation since April. Based on conversations with numerous leaders in Hannover, I think this is a great step forward by the Foundation’s board of directors. I’m not sure what precipitated the addition, but I’ve met Schmid-Lutz and she’ll do an excellent job of bringing cohesiveness and direction to the organization.

OPC UA is solid technology used by most automation and IoT companies. These moves to strengthen the organization can only be positive.

This from the original press release—In this key position, the Chair manages the strategic and tactical directives of the Board of Directors and ensures the marketing, technical, and overall business activities of the OPC Foundation consistently align with its vision and objectives. In addition, the Chair organizes and calls the Board of Directors meetings and engages directly with the organization’s infrastructure. The Chair position requires a dynamic leader who can navigate the political, business, and technical challenges associated with a standard setting organization.

Veronika Schmid-Lutz was honored by the trust and confidence placed in her by her fellow board members and noted that “being elected as the Chair of the OPC Foundation’s board is a great honor for me. My focus will be to strengthen and pursuing all aspects that make interoperability between devices, machines, and business systems as simple and as secure as possible.”

Thomas J. Burke, President of the OPC Foundation commented on the importance of the Chair position and why Ms. Schmid-Lutz was the right person to fill it, “Veronika clearly demonstrated her excellent leadership and business skills as a member of the OPC Foundation Board of Directors. Based on this I believe she is well suited to now serve as the Board’s Chair. With Veronika at the helm of the business, I look forward to see her facilitate and successfully drive the OPC Foundation vision into the next era.” Mr. Burke concluded saying “It’s a great honor to have Veronika accept this important leadership role. We look forward to see her oversee communicating the importance of OPC UA into the IT world.”

Recognizing the value of both the organization and its deliverables, Veronika Schmid-Lutz emphasized the importance of OPC UA by noting: “Easy interoperability is an important enabler for intelligent systems leveraging new technologies in software and hardware. SAP strongly supports OPC UA as it simplifies and accelerates information exchange between heterogeneous systems and devices which is why Platform Industrie 4.0 has made OPC-UA a key component of its RAMI architecture. The board looks forward to continue enhancing the value of both the organization and its deliverables.”

Reflecting on Labor Day

Reflecting on Labor Day

Once upon a time, people made useful things in the shop under their apartment or in the shed out back.

The product of their labor was very much a piece of themselves. A little bit of their soul went into their creation.

Then some men had a brilliant idea. Since the demand for many things was increasing and it took too long for craftsmen to make the products, new technologies allowed machines to be set up along a line powered by water, then steam, then electricity. We can bring people into one place to make many products cheaply and sell them at a profit.

Thus, the birth of the Industrial Age in the mid-1800s.

As the price of men grew, capitalists turned to women for less expensive wages. And then they brought children into the factories.

People worked 7 10-hour days per week. Sometimes never seeing the sun. Conditions were hazardous.

Mid-to-late-19th century philosophers identified this as “alienation”, as in people were alienated from the fruits of their labor. One of my fields of study in graduate school—Marx’s theory of alienation.

Labor was divided from capital (the ownership of the factories) and each grew ever more distrustful of the other. Laboring people began striking (withholding their labor) in order to force improvements in wages and working conditions. Some strikes were bitter and bloody. The Pullman strike in Chicago led to the establishment of Labor Day.

The machinery developed in the last 30 years have served to remove humans from unsafe areas and alleviate back-breaking work. We sometimes curse automation and robots for taking jobs away from people. In reality, these have made jobs in factories cleaner, safer, and more intellectually challenging. All good things.

Loss of jobs can usually be traced to the root cause of either bad management decisions or the rise of increased competition.

I struggle to understand how management and politics combine to squeeze the wages of laboring people. These are people who build the economy and the things and buildings we enjoy. The growing gap of wages between the lowest and highest is morally indefensible.

On the other hand today Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson wrote on his blog about the technology companies that have been good about giving employees stock in the company. Something I was promised a couple of times but it never came through.

Today is Labor Day in the US. Most people celebrate a day off for one last outing before all the fall activities kick off in earnest.

Taking a few moments to pause and reflect on all those who build our good things is worth the time.

On The IT/OT Conference Road Again

On The IT/OT Conference Road Again

There are many conferences and events this late summer/fall time frame. I used to try to make every event partly to gather information about the state of the market and partly in support of sales at the magazine I was at. These days, I cannot afford every trip at an average cost approaching $1,000 each. Those I don’t make, I’ll have phone interviews, I’m sure, to catch up on what’s happening.

Next week, it’s VMWorld (with Dell Technologies) in Las Vegas. (August 26-30). I have already been on two conference calls hearing about some really cool IoT announcements. I don’t have good contacts with VMWare (except the CTO, who doesn’t issue invitations), so I won’t be going. Watch for the news.

The next trip is IMTS / Hannover Messe US Digital Manufacturing at Chicago’s McCormick Place Sept. 10-15. This is a huge show that Hannover Messe has been trying to add a significant automation presence. That part is growing slowly. It will be interesting to see this year. I will be there for a couple of days. Tweet me if you would like to meet at @garymintchell.

The Inductive Automation Ignition Community Conference in Folsom (Sacramento), CA has become an annual event for me. There is always high energy, lots of interesting partners, and a peek into some new SCADA and IoT thinking. It’s Sept. 17-19 but it’s sold out.

Of course, I will be attending Emerson Global Users Exchange, San Antonio, October 1-5. Have not missed one since I started going in 2003. Always a good event and a chance to catch up with all my old editorial colleagues.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is holding an Internet of Things Special Event in Houston overlapping Exchange. Looks like I will go to Exchange, go over to Houston to spend a day catching up on the IT side of things, then finishing the week back at Exchange. Two places at the same time? Not a problem—well, I make it work.

I had a Wonderware conference in my calendar, but Monday I found out that it wasn’t a media event. Instead I could get an invitation to the AVEVA World Summit,  in Palm Springs October 9-11. I’d love to go. Guy Kawasaki is speaking. I’d love to hear him. At first I thought it was mostly AVEVA design engineering software, but looking at the agenda today, I see some Wonderware/Avantis content.

Would I like to make it three weeks in a row? Looks like I’ll visit Pack Expo October 14-17 in Chicago at McCormick Place. Planning on a couple of business meetings and a chance to check out the latest in machine control and automation.

Process Systems User Group and Automation Fair by Rockwell Automation will be November 12-15 in Philadelphia. I haven’t missed one since 1997. Hate to start a trend. Although it overlaps with an Internet of Things conference where I’m on the back up list as a speaker. I’ll probably be spending the week in Philadelphia.

Oh, and overlapping those two is the Schneider Electric Innovation Summit, Atlanta, November 13-14. This one is mostly power, energy, home automation—things I don’t cover deeply.

Finally there is the SPS/IPC/Drives conference in Nuremberg November 27-29. Looks like I will be attending after also attending a Siemens cybersecurity conference in Munich.

This trip overlaps another conference, one that I attended last year, the HPE Discover event in Madrid. I can’t do both. So, I’ll have to get reports from one.

As always a busy fall. That and I have seven more weeks of assigning referees to soccer matches in west central Ohio. That has become almost a full time job in itself.

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